Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman appears ready to sue the City of Malibu and one new city council member, Bruce Silverstein, for defamation or invasion of privacy, as she asks to be bought out of her contract.
City council voted in a closed door session on Friday, Jan. 22, to refer the matter to its insurance pool, California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which represents Malibu and numerous other cities. The insurance company would be involved in any legal settlement or lawsuit brought by Feldman.
Feldman remains city manager, but has offered to leave the job as soon as a replacement can be brought up to speed. Her contract runs until May 2022, but she is offering to leave in May of this year for the contract’s value: $375,000.
But the language of her letter makes it clear she may collect big money from the city and/or its insurance company if a court agrees with her arguments about a hostile workplace created by Silverstein.
In a letter sent to the city from her attorney, Feldman called Silverstein’s behavior “unhinged” and said he is acting in a way that “exposes the City of Malibu to future claims for ... harassment, retaliation, hostile work environment, discrimination, constructive termination, and who knows what else, if Mr. Silverstein persists with his lies and paranoid, delusional grievances against the city manager.”
Silverstein circulated the letter to his political allies later in the day on Friday, but said he had been advised not to comment on it.
On Saturday, Jan. 23, a City of Malibu spokesperson issued a statement further describing the closed-session council decision: “The City Council directed the interim city attorney to tender the letter to its insurer, the Joint Powers Insurance Agency, for a determination of coverage and intends to vigorously defend the allegations contained in the letter. As this matter involves the potential for litigation, the Councilmembers have been advised not to discuss the letter or its contents outside of a closed session and the city has no further comment on the matter at this time.”
Feldman’s letter says Silverstein prepared “a 100-plus page diatribe, filled with false and misleading statements about the city manager and shove(d) it into that city employee’s personnel file without regard to the internal process and review by other council members and the city attorney.
“When informed of this error in judgment, he published that same personnel complaint on his social media platform with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the claims and for the purpose of harming Ms. Feldman’s professional reputation, in violation of Ms. Feldman’s privacy rights,” the letter claimed.
Silverstein has been in office for fewer than two months. During the recent election, he and two other candidates, Steve Uhring and Andy Lyon, professed their desire to fire Feldman and City Attorney Christi Hogin. Hogin retired in December, as she had announced she would a year ago.
Silverstein and Uhring finished one-two in the November election; those two men, plus Lyon, together amassed 42 percent of the vote. The other five official candidates, who generally supported Feldman and Hogin, combined won 58 percent. With the vote split among the establishment candidates, only one got elected: Paul Grisanti.
Feldman’s letter was sent by Therese Cannata, a high powered San Francisco lawyer who has represented several high-ranking government officials who recovered large settlements after being fired.
Of particular note in the letter is a declaration by Feldman accusing former City Council Member Jefferson Wagner of making false accusations in a “sworn affidavit” that Silverstein has circulated.
The affidavit all but accuses Feldman of organizing the county District Attorney’s raid on Wagner’s house—outside the city of Malibu in Los Angeles County—despite laws that require city council candidates to live within the city where they seek election. No charges were ever brought.
“To be clear, Ms. Feldman had no knowledge nor any involvement whatsoever in the search warrant that was signed by a superior court judge and executed by local police. The so-called citation to evidence (the “opposition research”) is literally a link to nowhere.
“I must add,” the letter continues, “that while Ms. Feldman maintained professional relations with Mr. Wagner while he served on the city council, it was well known that Mr. Wagner possesses and stores multiple weapons in his home and appeared to have issues concerning accurate reporting about his true residence for purposes of holding political office.
“Also, for the record, Ms. Feldman’s contract was approved by a vote of 4-1, and there is not one shred of evidence that Mr. Wagner’s vote was sought or mattered in that regard.”
A version of this story was published by KBUU News.